WINDS OF CHANGE: FORUM AIRS CANDIDATES’ VIEWS ON GREEN ISSUES

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East County wind projects among hot topics discussed by candidates for Congress, Assembly and Mayor

Story by Miriam Raftery, videos by Paul Kruze

View ECM’s videos from the San Diego Green Candidates Forum:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz2SAosb9-Y

Part II:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8rZTtkh7OY&feature=youtu.be

October 14, 2012 (San Diego)—November's election has big impacts for our region, our nation and our world--with San Diego poised to be a leader in the emerging green economy. 

Should our region’s needs be met by rooftop solar or industrial wind projects in our backcountry?  Should the San Onofre nuclear reactors be shut down?  How can we fuel San Diego’s economy and create green jobs? In what ways should transportation and water issues be addressed—and what about global climate change?  These were among the topics of lively discussion at the San Diego Green Candidates forum on October 4, where candidates for Congress, Assembly, Mayor and Supervisor shared their ideas on these important issues and more.

“The green economy has been the largest growth sector in the recession. It has penetrated almost all job categories, according to the Department of Labor,” said Professor Kathleen Connell, founder of the Green Experts Academy and a sustainability management program instructor at National University.  Connell moderated the panel along with Alan Ball, CEO of the Sustainability Alliance of Southern California. 

Numerous candidates were invited.  Not a single Republican would participate. Eight candidates came, all Democrats: Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congressman/Mayoral candidate Bob Filner, Congressional candidates Scott Peters and David Secor, County Supervisor candidate Dave Roberts, State Assembly candidates Dr. Shirley Weber, RJ Hernandez and Pat Hurley. Candidates who declined included Congressman Brian Bilbray, Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio and Assemblyman Brian Jones.

All agreed that there are solid reasons to make San Diego a leader in sustainability—for economic reasons, livability of communities, and growing concerns over climate change. But how do we define green and sustainable?  

The answers aren’t clear cut.  Nuclear produces no emissions and use no fossil fuels, but the Fukushima disaster and serious safety violations have led to calls by many to shut down San Onofre’s reactors permanently.  Wind power has been touted as a means of cutting fossil fuels, but projects can be environmentally destructive and pose other problems including fire risks, health problems and destruction of Native American sacred sites.

Increasingly, these elected officials and candidates are waking up to the consequences of these energy sources. Many specifically addressed the impacts of industrial wind projects on San Diego’s East County and neighboring Imperial County. Most called for a greater emphasis on rooftop solar and other energy sources that don’t cause widespread harm to communities—and Congressman Filner praised East County Magazine for bringing such issues into the mainstream conversation.

Below are highlights of each speaker’s views.

Congressman Bob Filner, candidate for San Diego Mayor

“These issues are important to our city, our nation and our planet,” Congressman Filner said.

He voiced surprised that only Democrats chose to participate in the green issues forum, then expressed frustration with the new wave of Tea Party Republicans in Congress. “Half the body doesn’t believe in science--or rational thought. They believe climate change is a liberal plot.”

Filner said he opted to retire after many years in Congress in hopes of becoming chief executive of American’s eight largest city.  Besides decades in Congress, Filner spent 22 years as a professor of science at SDSU, served on the San Diego City Council and on the San Diego Unified School Board.

“I believe as mayor that I have a responsibility in dealing with these issues,” he said, naming climate change, alternative energy and protecting the environment as matters that all politicians at every level of government should seek to address.  He added, “I know where the money is in Washington and where we can get some help.” He believes educating people on green issues is a mayor’s responsibility and he pledges to speak out at planning groups and town councils. 

If elected, one of his first actions will be an executive order to put solar power on all public buildings within five years—creating “enormous demand” for solar as well as jobs to install it, he pledged. “Companies will pay up front costs,” he said, adding that costs can be paid off through savings on energy bills. 

“Why not give incentives for neighborhoods?” asked Filner, who wants to incentivize communities to power their schools, libraries and more with solar power. “We can do this. We’re only limited by our imagination…These are not funding issues—it’s leadership.”

He emphasized that a green economy is powerful. San Diego also has a “blue economy” that includes ocean-based wave energy and fuel from algae.

“I am going to put them together and create an Aqua Economy,” said Filner.

He also supports a “CycloSDia” patterned after Los Angeles’ CycLAvia, a program that closes off certain sections of the city to vehicles in order to encourage pedestrians and bicycles.  Filner, who has been bicycling around town, also wants more bike lanes. 

He chastised his opponent, Carl DeMaio, for failing to show up and told an anecdote that exemplified their differences in views. “We were in a parade…I rode in a Solar Tessla,” said Filner.”DeMaio had a gas guzzling  Jeep.”

Filner pledged that if elected, he will also work to make the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) more responsive since San Diego control’s a lion’s share of the votes. He criticized SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan, the subject of litigation, as being front-loaded for highways and back-loaded on transit.

As for Mayor Sanders, he said, “One of the most terrible things this mayor did was to abolish the whole planning process, the department.” By contrast, a Filner administration would put planning, affordable housing, transportation, energy sustainability and more all into one department that could be called APLUS, or Agency of Transportation and Planning for Livability and Urban Sustainability.

He opposes San Onofre and said he doesn’t trust nuclear because of safety concerns and the problem of how to store radioactive waste. He noted that utility operators Southern California Edison and SDG&E want to restart San Onofre with no tests and have ratepayers foot the bill for repairing damages.

“It looks like negliigence to me,” he said. “Their stockholders should pay.”

As for big wind energy projects, he voiced concerns over negative impacts now coming to light.

“Neighborhoods do count,” said Filner. He noted that conservations  over energy has shifted; where once wind projects were evaluated largely on the basis of energy and job creation, now the negative impacts of industrial wind projects on communities, Native Americans and the environment are starting to be recognized.

 “Miriam has written the most on this,” he said, acknowledging ECM’s editor. Although wind and waves hole the promise of inexhaustible energy, it must be balanced against the costs to communities, wildlife and the environment, he believes. “I listen to neighborhoods. If a neighborhood is saying this destroys our parks and our quality of life, I will listen.”

Filner has opposed the Ocotillo and Tule wind projects locally, though both projects continue to move forward on federal public lands. He also fought successfully thus far to stop the quail Brush gas-fired power plant proposed near Mission Trails Regional Park and a peaker gas power plant proposed in University City.

“If we have a plan, then we can become sustainable,” said Filner, who supports incentives for solar. He also supports creation of a Community Choice Aggregation program to provide an alternative to SDG&E that willlet consumers choose to buy energy produced by local rooftop solar—not fossil fuels or power from destructive industrial-scale projects like Ocotillo wind. “Let’s show that we can do that,” he urged.

He warned that “special interests—they’re going to fight with everything they’ve got. SDG&E will fight us. They’re scared.” He cited negative ads and editorials being run against him in the UT San Diego newspaper, but added with confidence, “I’ve won 25 elections without the endorsement of the UT.”

He vowed to organize communities to support the battle against special interests once elected, leading one audience member to shout out, “I wish you would have debated Romney!”

Filner’s  plans for a sustainable San Diego would also include improving efficiency of vehicles and lighting, as well as creating a central location where people can access healthy foods.

“A lot can be done. It just takes political will,” he concluded.  “We can create a green, sustainable future and San Diego can be the leader.”

Congresswoman Susan Davis, 53rd District

Congresswoman Davis serves on the House Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition.  “The differences couldn’t be more stark,” she said of the Republican chairs and Democratic ranking members.  “I have nearly a 100% rating from Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are proud to have tens—maybe even a five. We see particularly among the Tea Partyers that they are very anti-environmental…They don’t see that economies run well when they are sustainable.”

That attitude was clear at the outset when Republicans regained control of the House in 2010 and promptly got rid of sustainable practices in the Capitol, such as use of cornstarch forks and cardboard carryout containers in the House cafeteria.

The Republicans also passed a House bill to force offshore drilling on states that don’t want it, such as California. 

She praised the Obama administration for its leadership in helping the military make big strides toward sustainability. “I was at the change of command ceremony on Nimitz. They are using biofuels from algae to power ships,” Davis said. 

She warned that if Congress fails to act and allows sequestration cuts to occur, it could have a devastating impact on San Diego including loss of 35,000 Defense jobs as well as steep cuts in energy, plus San Diego is highest on the list for National Institute of Health grants.  “Green and sustainability research and development would be really  hurt,” she added.

On climate change, she warned, “There isn’t a lot of time. We just can’t wait.”  She cited increasingly extreme weather as well as jobs going to China and Europe.

Asked how to bring California’s ambitious renewable energy goals to Washington she replied tersely, “You have to change the people who are there.”

She supports a “balanced approach” to meeting the nation’s energy needs including wind, solar and bio-fuels with improved efficiency in all of these. She praised a Barrio Logan woman who started a company to take grease from restaurants and convert it to biofuels.

Connell asked Congresswoman Davis about the paradox of renewable energy on public lands that is “not just disruptive and unpleasant for residents in East County; these are being pushed on folks and they are creating health and safety issues.”

Davis  acknowledged, “There are people who really awnt to be heard on those issues. There must be openness, transparency and the ability to respond….To me, it’s down to the details and how you get stakeholders involved.” She likened it to a freeway project that she fought against, which was supported by Congressman Daryl Issa but would have impacted a state park.  Noting that all development isn’t bad, she added,“We have to make sure it’s not on precious land.”

 She also voiced concern over San Onofre. “I went there after the earthquake and tsunami [in Japan],” she noted, “before San Onofre was shut down…There are a lot of questions that have to be answered.” She said she cannot support reopening the facility unless she can be convinced that it is safe. Specifically, she voiced concerns over the size of the sea wall and inadequate evacuation routes.

She wants to see the San Diego border area viewed as a region to solve problems such as storm run-off and surf contamination that has caused illnesses.

“The American dream is also a clean environment…Part of the dream is believing what we do for the future is better than what we have done in the past,” she concluded.

With redistricting, Davis will be representing more of East County, picking up La Mesa and most of El Cajon, among other areas.  She emphasized that her local office welcomes constituents. “Come see us here,” she said, adding, “Never hesitate.”

David Secor, candidate, 50th Congressional District

Secor is running against incumbent Congressman Duncan D. Hunter. He noted that the political parties have clashed on environmental issues since President Ronald Reagan ripped off solar panels installed on the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

“To alleviate global warming we have to have the people in Congress who will do that…In 2011, the Republican Party voted 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards,” Secor said. “Duncan Hunter still believes that fossil fuels will carry us through and that carbon is not a problem.”

Secor predicted that if the XL Pipeline favored by Republicans is built, “it will raise gasoline prices.” Tars sands oil that the pipeline would carry is four times dirtier than other oil, he noted,  and will be used to produce diesel—meaning new diesel refineries. 

Secor describes himself as “just a working person who quit my job because the Democratic Party wasn’t going to put anyone up against Duncan Hunter.” Now retired, he says he felt compelled to run because “no one is representing people in District 50 (formerly District 52). Hunter represents contractors and tries to put his religious beliefs into law. Those are his only priorities.”

He wants to make jobs for the district a priority – including clean energy jobs. But not jobs in industrial-scale wind projects.  He has protested construction of the Ocotillo Express wind project and also opposes Tule Wind.

He doesn’t hesitate to criticize his own party’s leader. “Once you destroy the environment, it’s not coming back…The President thinks you can only put up big wind turbines, but the desert is a living ecosystem.” Secor has been outspoken against the harm done by the Ocotillo project to Native American sacred sites, wildlife, and the risks posed to residents by turbines close to homes and roads.

“To destroy the environment and put up these monstrosities is wrong,” he said emphatically. 

Secor, whose home in Crest was nearly destroyed by the 2003 Cedar Fire, is deeply concerned about the fires danger posed by towering 500-foot-tall turbines proposed in fire-prone East County—each filled with hundreds of gallons of flammable lubricating oil.  At least 190 fires have been caused by wind turbines that explode or are struck by lightning, including a recent wildfire in Riverside County.

“Once a wildfire starts, they are not going to be able to fight it with aircraft,” he said, echoing concerns voiced by prominent retired fire chiefs.  “You can’t fly near turbines or power lines.  Once that fire starts during Santa Ana winds and the fire gets to a certain size, there is nothing you can do to stop it.” A major wildfire starting in East County could burn all the way to the sea, as nearly happened in 2003 when “the only reason the fire stopped is because the winds stopped.”

He spoke against the Quail Brush gas-fired power plant at a City Council meeting where the Council voted down the project, which was slated for “a beautiful area where thousands go to hike.”

Secor also wants to see San Onofre nuclear facility “shut down, decommissioned and removed. I don’t believe it would withstand a strong quake. In Fukushima, their number four reactor shut down and the cesium radiation on reactor 4 is the worst of all.” A similar disaster here “could turn the entire San Diego County into a place that could not be livable for a thousand years,” he said.

His answer to energy for our region? “Just commit to green and don’t have projects that you know will create disaster on a large scale….We can do this with solar.” He cites Germany as an example, where the country produces far more power than here, yet we have far more sunshine. The difference is incentives that Germany provides and the U.S. does not. He also supports small-scale vertical axis wind turbines on roofs, such as Germany has encouraged.

“We will generate our own energy through a ratepayer owned nonprofit,” he said of San Diego’s plans for a CCA – a model he hopes to see in other communities around the nation.  “In the long run, we’ll have lower prices. Electricity for working class people is a regressive tax.  Poor people in winter time can’t put their heater on because they can’t afford the bill.”

Connell thanked him, adding pointedly, “More people near to hear about his in a no bones about it way, especially fire.”

Scott Peters, candidate for 52nd Congressional district

“If we could commit that every job, every industry could be green, we would solve a lot of our problems,” said Peters, who is running in the 50th Congressional district against incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray. 

If elected, he wants to push for national leadership on climate change. He would also seek to have the federal government adopt renewable portfolio standards similar to California’s, which require that 30% of the state’s energy be met by renewable by 2020. He quoted Robert F. Kennedy, who has said that the U.S. could meet our nation’s total peak energy with large-scale solar for $3 trillion, “what we spent on two wars in the last decade.” 

His preference, however, is for distributed solar energy on rooftops.  “It provides more reliability locally, but it’s not incentivized now…I like the idea of incentivizing it.” 

Asked about the impact of large-scale energy projects on public lands, Peters acknowledged , “Our East County lands,wind and also large scale solar arrays are creating lots of issues.  Not just NIMBY (not in my backyard).” He pointed out that there are health and fire risks that “are making East County unlivable.”

But he added, “We’re about to face some really tough choices…We have a whole lot of sun…It’s about listening hard to people whose lives are affected and trying to find a balance…but we’re really talking about the future of our planet.”

Connell asked his views on nuclear, noting that her father died of unexplained causes after working at the Hanford nuclear facility.  Peters replied that the Economist has called nuclear power a “failure due to safety and the amount of subsidies.” 

He also opposed a “stealth” gas power plant proposed in University City that was defeated despite a lack of transparency.  He said he opposes putting large power plants in residential areas.

Peters, like most who spoke, supports engineer Bill Powers’ plan to create a Communtiy Choice Aggregation (CCA) that would serve as a competitor to SDG&E and allow people to purchase power produced through locally-generated solar energy on rooftops.  “Our energy pricing and regulation is built for 20 years ago,” he noted. 

Connell indicated that there is a “whole lot of money” available at the Department of Energy,  Department of Defense, NASA and other federal entities.  She asked Peters if he sees opportunity to bring home funds for a federal lab in the green sector.  Peters indicated he sees potential for energy research dollars here.

He also believes it is in our “national interest” for the federal government to take action to prevent states from blocking policies to promote distributed generation of solar.  The comment came in response to a question about the California Public Utilities (CPUC) blocking programs that would benefit consumers and ratepayers, actions many have contended occurred due to overl cozy ties between the CPUC and utility companies.

Peters wants to stop subsidies for fossil fuel companies that are “already extremely profitable” but with lobbyists that wield substantial power in Washington.  An attorney, Peters says he was shocked by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporation contributions to political campaigns, which he called “frightening.” He supports a constitutional amendment to declare that corporations are not people to overturn Citizens United. 

A former Port Commissioner and Councilman, he notes that San Diego was one of the first places planning for sea level rise while others remain in denial of the concern. 

Dave Roberts, candidate for County Board of Supervisors, 3rd District

“I’m really passionate about my environmental record,” said Roberts, currently deputy mayor of Solana Beach.  He is running to fill the slot left by retiring Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, a Republican who has endorsed his candidacy. He formed a “Clean Green Committee” and has enjoyed support from Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.

“The sun is our greatest asset here and we need to take advantage of it,” he stated.

At the County level, he lists two key environmental goals.

One is to declare San Diego a PACE city and provide up-front help for homeowners to improve their homes’ energy efficiency. “No government money is involved and it is good for the environment,” he said, noting one downside: homeowners must pay off the PACE loan before selling.

The other is to create a Consumer Choice Aggregate (CCA) that would give consumers a choice to buy renewable, locally generated energy primarily from rooftop solar and other small-scale clean energy sources.  “Believe it or not, SDG&E will work with us,” he said. “We can buy 100 percent green. This has actually been done in Sonoma, in Cape Cod, in North Carolina.  It can help us have more competition in the energy field and meet clean energy goals a lot sooner.”

County Supervisors are set to hear a controversial wind ordinance on December 5.  Numerous major wind projects are proposed for East County and Roberts could be a key vote on future wind projects proposed.

The moderator asked Roberts about height limits and the impacts of wind generation on East County communities.  Specifically, he was asked he communities should be allowed to decide what types of energy should be used in their areas.

Roberts observed that his views on wind energy have evolved. “At first, I was all for it,” he recalled.  But now, he said, “I have great concerns about what is going on in East County.  There are lots of problems….The County and Native Americans are struggling with what to do…Sometimes people who want to provide utilities don’t have communities in mind.”

Similarly, he said he strongly opposed a power plant in University City  that he described as pushed forward via “stealth” by “the mayor who sprang this on everybody…I don’t want things done in the dark.”  Henoted that Quail Brush was recently voted down due to strong community opposition.  He advised voters to “choose people who will listen to you.”

“I don’t think we should be doing more harm than good,” he said of energy projects that harm communities. 

He added that he recently met with representatives of the wind energy. “’m not convinced the the positive outweighs the negative for Tule Wind.” He added that he doesn’t like the way that wind turbines have “visually littered the highway along the drive to Palm Springs.”

Roberts concluded that in weighing energy options for our region,”Solar should be number one.”

He views water as a “mega problem” in our region. Roberts serves on a recycled wastewater board and cites concern that clean water is being pumped into the ocean. “A  policy initiative I want to work on is recycled water on residential yards if they are close enough to purple pipes.”

He opposed SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan because it relied too heavily on new freeways over improving public transportation or other alternatives.  When California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit to block the Plan, he said, “I thought it was the right thing to do..We’ve got to get this right. We can’t keep paving over paradise.”

In Solana Beach, he has supported efforts to make the community more walkable and believes that “San Diego County could be the bicycle capital of the world.”  He also hopes to see the Sprinter train expand further in North County.

He considers his environmental views to be mainstream and says he is running a bipartisan campaign. “The issues should be settled based on what’s best for San Diego County.”

Pat Hurley, candidate for 71st Assembly District

“If we elect the people at this podium tonight, we won’t need any of that—Sunrise Powerlink or Quail Brush—and we certainly won’t need propellers in people’s backyards,” said Hurley, referencing industrial wind projects being forced onto communities in close proximity to homes.

Hurley is an officer at Heartland Coalition (ECM’s nonprofit publisher) overseeing its UnitedGREEN division.  “Our mission is to create jobs and sustainable communities,disaster relief, art and timely news.  We’ve created 186 jobs by rehabbing homes and retrofitting cars…Bill Clinton praised us.”

He has big plans if elected, bringing his sustainability experience to Sacramento to boost our state’s economy.  “We will make California the green energy capital of the world,” he said.  His plans include creating good paying jobs while improving air and water quality, reducing greenhouse gases and contributing to the state’s economy.

“Just simply follow demand,” he said.  “There is demand for energy efficient homes and cars.”  He criticized Governor Brown for saying that opponents opponents of big energy projects  like Powerlink must be ‘crushed.’  Instead of more big power projects, he sees a simpler way to meet state energy goals.

Hurley observed, “The big money in insulation is in East County” where many homes lack insulation and temperatures are hot.

Just as military manufacturing helped pull California out of the recession in the 1940s, Hurley predicts, “we will harness the same energy to meet our modern challenges: jobs, water and fuel.”

He supports a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to help homeowners and business owners afford up-front costs of solar/clean energy. He also supports CCAs to give consumers the choice to purchase power from clean sources.  Cities and counties choosing to create their own utilities will also spark demand for more solar on roofs and parking lots, increasing demand for solar installers who earn on average $20-$40 an hour in the San Diego region.  

“We will create middle class jobs—and we will do it through the private sector—without raising taxes,” Hurley pledged. 

His opponent, Assemblyman Brian Jones, declined to speak.  The contrast between the two candidates on energy policy is stark, however—Jones has previously hosted a forum on climate change—with a prominent climate change denier as the speaker.

“We have a group of representatives we can elect who can really make a difference,” Hurley emphasized.  

Shirley Weber, PhD, candidate for 79th Assembly District

A professor at San Diego State University and former member of the San Diego Unified School Board, Dr. Weber is the daughter of a sharecropper who earned three degrees by age 26.  A strong supporter of public education, she is also “passionate” about making sure that we are “respectful of the environment.”

She spoke of the link between poverty and pollution, noting that in the east Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up there was a “red ring around it” for emissions harmful to human health.  She recalls the positive impact after the state regulated emissions and says she is “committed to meeting 2020 goals” for clean energy from renewable sources. 

She warned of “horrible effects” if Prop 30, the Governor’s tax initiative to fund education, should fail. Those include cuts in science and technology needed for the green economy as well as “dismantling our schools and universities”, creating a downward spiral.  Weber has worked with the Environmental Health Coalition to build and environmental lab at a school.

“I will try to do what is right for children and communities,” she pledged.

R.J. Hernandez, 77th Assembly district candidate

Hernandez, a business owner, thanked the event organizers.  “These programs help to educate me,” he acknowledged. 

“I will fight to make California an opportunity state,” he said.  His legislative priorities would include job creation, budget reform and education.  “I’m very pro having people have solar on their house,” he said, adding that he supports a net zero policy to let ratepayers earn back money if they produce more power than they sue.   

He believes San Onofre is unsafe.  “I’m glad it’s offline…and we’re doing just fine,” he noted. “There are also lots of issues with turbines.”  He wants to see solar on roofs of homes and businesses.

He also believes fire protection is important and claimed his opponent, Brian Mainscheim, “wasn’t there for us in the fires.” 

He wants to create public-private partnerships and says that as a moderate he will be able to “have conversations with Democrats and Republicans…Green policy is a key part of it.”